Have you heard of Dominik Szoboszlai? If you have, kudos. If you have not, don’t be embarrassed. Szoboszlai is a 20-year-old Hungarian international who plays in midfield. He is also the most expensive purchase of a barren winter transfer window in Europe.
Comically, Szoboszlai transferred from Red Bull Salzburg to RB Leipzig and there are no prizes for guessing the connection between those clubs. West Ham were responsible for the joint-biggest Premier League deals; the sale of Sebastian Haller to Ajax and permanent acquisition of Saïd Benrahma. Both players fetched fees of £20million so, in effect, West Ham replaced one forward for another for free.
Benrahma joined West Ham on loan in the summer and, if we are to exclude the arrival of Amad Diallo at Manchester United (a deal confirmed on deadline day in October), then Benrahma is one of only two Premier League purchases to make the top 10 for signings across the five major European leagues. The other is Morgan Sanson of Aston Villa.
This was a market for United to set up a stall after their summer window was blighted not just by the failure to secure key incomings but the lack of outgoings. That has been addressed with the sale of Timothy Fosu-Mensah to Bayer Leverkusen and the impending departure of Marcos Rojo, gone in every aspect bar the wage bill. Rojo has been in Argentina for over a month and that country’s window shuts on February 18.
Jesse Lingard, rumbled a year ago, has been shipped out on loan and West Ham have helpfully agreed to finance his £80,000 weekly wages. The next phase of Facundo Pellistri’s development will be spent helping Alaves to avoid relegation from La Liga and Teden Mengi has a similar remit with Derby County in the Championship.
United were open to reinforcing at the mid-season point. A move for Kieran Trippier was shelved amid the outcome of his appeal against a betting ban (Trippier was unsuccessful) and they discussed a deal for the teenage Ecuador international Moises Caicedo. A source privy to negotiations described it as a ‘clusterf—‘ and United moved aside. Brighton bought Caicedo on deadline day.
Pandemic pending, United could complete their squad overhaul in the summer two-and-a-half years after it started with the symbolic sale of Marouane Fellaini. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has primarily discarded players in their 30th year or their 30s (Fellaini, Rojo, Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera, Matteo Darmian, Ashley Young, Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling). Phil Jones turns 29 this month and Lingard is 29 in December.
Unless a buyer emerges in the MLS window, Sergio Romero will be released and United must hope loanees Lingard, Andreas Pereira and Diogo Dalot secure permanent moves. Jones will be made available for transfer unless he has a Lazarus-like resurrection.
Juan Mata’s contract may not be extended and some of Paul Pogba’s luggage might already be in the departures’ lounge in anticipation of a suitable offer. Tahith Chong’s short race appears to have been run and his contract also expires next year.
United have shown over the last year they can cope without Pogba and his probable exit has been offset by the totemic Bruno Fernandes. Donny van de Beek is likeable but lightweight and may only hit his stride after a year in England while Scott McTominay and Fred are firmly established as Solskjaer’s dependable duo in midfield against the elite.
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Manchester United missed multiple chances to beat Arsenal on Saturday evening, drawing 0-0 at the Emirates Stadium.
Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford were culpable of squandering opportunities, as United now sit three points off league leaders Man City having played a game more.
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Solskjaer has settled on a core squad of 22 players and that is about to increase to 23 with Amad Diallo. How Diallo fares between now and late May is unlikely to discourage United from targeting another forward in the summer; Diallo and Pellistri were viewed as ‘potential’ recruits and United wanted a ready-made right winger to redress the balance of a lopsided attack.
Had China contained Covid, United could have had the financial muscle to make Borussia Dortmund and Aston Villa yield last summer. The prospect of signing Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish in the same summer now seems as fanciful as a Lee Grant start and Grealish’s value has risen like England’s R rate. Sancho’s has headed in the opposite direction in a season Dortmund sacked their coach, Lucien Favre, and they are currently sixth, 13 points adrift of Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga monopoly.
Sancho’s form has picked up of late but he is not as desirable as six months or 18 months ago and, at a time where Gareth Southgate could pick half a squad of gifted English forwards, there is a compelling case to omit Sancho from his 23-man European Championship party.
Sooner or later, United will have to address their number nine issue with a long-term option. Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani, 34 on Valentine’s Day, have five goals apiece this season and United have failed to score more than two goals in their last eight Premier League games. The principled instinct would be to cut ties with Mino Raiola but United pursued Erling Haaland months after Raiola confessed he had attempted to engineer a transfer for Pogba.
At the other end of the spine, Dean Henderson is a potential United number one for the next 10 years and there is an acceptance among staff Harry Maguire needs an upgrade next to him. Ed Woodward was prepared to push the £100million boat out for Raphael Varane in 2018 and the France enforcer is out of contract in under 18 months, although Real Madrid are understood to have submitted an enticing opening offer.
United are monitoring Dayot Upamecano and might hope, unlike most Germany-based players, he is not minded to covet Munich. Solskjaer is an occasional admirer of sometime centre half Declan Rice and it augurs well that Frank Lampard, eager to re-sign the one-time Chelsea scholar, is now out of the picture.
Remarkably, United have not bought a player from West Ham since Paul Ince in 1989, a deal soured by Ince naively donning a United shirt at the Hammers’ training ground. Ince, as garrulous a Cockney as Barbara Windsor, fell silent whenever the United coach turned into Green Street over the next six years. Lingard whipped his phone out.
So have others to Google ‘Szoboszlai’.